Tribal leaders discuss need for cultural sensitivity training needed in schools

PHOENIX-American Indian leaders attending a tribal summit Feb. 15 hosted by Gov. Janet Napolitano called for more cultural sensitivity training for school leaders.

The governor pledged to look into concerns raised by a panel of more than a dozen elected tribal officials she brought together for a summit on education and growth.

Vivian Juan-Saunders, chairwoman of the Tohono O'odham Nation, asked Napolitano to provide cultural sensitivity training for principals who are sent in to take over failing schools on reservations.

Members of the audience called up by the tribal leaders echoed the call for more training.

Gary Loutzenheiser, acting education director for the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation, told the governor and tribal leaders he had taught minority students in public schools. But he said he realized how little he knew about American Indians when he became principal of an elementary school run by the tribe.

"I was biased, prejudiced and had no idea how to deal with people of a different culture," he said.

"I've worked with some children who have all the potential and opportunity, but when they leave the reservation and go to public school they are not accepted, and it's not intentional," he said. "It's because the dominant culture does not understand."

The governor also heard from educators who said schools aren't preparing American Indian children well for college.

"It is so hard, so hard, when (students) come to us without having these prerequisite courses and not being prepared," said Peterson Zah, a former Navajo Nation president who is Arizona State University's Indian affairs adviser. "I think we as tribal leaders and school districts, we really need to work on that."

Napolitano said long-term planning is important but that leaders should also tackle education issues immediately.

"We need a sense of urgency about this," she said. "We've got to deal with these things now or else we've lost another generation."

Jennifer Allison-Ray, lieutenant governor of the Gila River Indian Community, asked the governor to use her national prominence to bring more attention to aging reservation schools run by the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs.

"I've seen some of them and to say that they are out of date is an understatement," Napolitano said.

The leaders also raised concerns about transportation, water and other issues related to growth.

Napolitano urged the leaders and members of their tribes to work with neighboring communities on issues related to growth.

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